Even When You Wrote the Operating System, You Still Have to Work Around Other Peoples’ Bugs

For all the grief that Microsoft has taken in the past about the bugginess (real or imagined) of Windows, they have definitely put in a huge amount of effort to try and erase that perception. Readers of Raymond Chen’s excellent The Old New Thing blog will no doubt be familiar with the many tales regarding application compatibility (including one about a game) and the extent to which Windows tries to accommodate buggy (but mission-critical) applications. They’re interesting stories to read, not only because of the technical details, but because of the business justifications for such endeavors.

It just so happens that I ran into another situation recently where Microsoft has to play nice and accommodate somebody else’s misbehaving application. The Google Maps Windows Mobile application adds a command for mapping a contact’s address to the context menu for the contact. This is really convenient, and is very intuitive — you look up the contact, and then you can map their address. But in the otherwise excellent Windows Live Search Mobile application, you can only search contacts from within the application itself — you can’t go from the Contact screen to Live Search in the same manner as with Google Maps. It seems pretty clunky and counterintuitive.

Since I figured this was a “slam dunk” kind of improvement, with no potential downside, I mailed the feedback address for Live Search and mentioned that it would be nice to have the same Contact menu functionality as in Google Maps. I got an amazingly speedy response (within half an hour) indicating that they couldn’t add that feature, because Google Maps had issues if another application tried to hook the same menu! Microsoft realizes that, regardless of who is at fault, that people tend to blame bugs on them, so in a case like this, it’s easier for them to step aside than to endure a torrent of tech-support questions.

Fortunately, Google has apparently fixed the bug on their end, so this feature will be added to the next version of Live Search. It just goes to show that, no matter how big or small your company is, if somebody creates a useful application on your platform, you can become beholden to either the need to maintain compatibility with their bugs, or to their goodwill with regards to fixing their bugs. It’s a tough situation in which to be.

The only remaining question for me is whether or not the mobile Google Maps app auto-updates — I know that Windows Live Mobile does, because it downloaded an update the other day. I don’t know if I’ll have to remove and reinstall Google Maps as well. Guess I’ll have to give it a shot…

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